CNJ staff photo: Gabriel Monte Al’s Pets owner Albert Lewis explains how the fluorescent fish he sells are bred. Lewis, who has been operating his store since 2000, plans to retire and close his shop in a month.
Albert Lewis started his pet shop on 21st Street as part of an extension of his hobby of raising exotic fish.
About a dozen years later, Lewis, 62, is closing his store and is looking forward to spending time enjoying other hobbies.
Lewis and his wife of 39 years, Mary, started Al’s Pet Shop in 2000 after retiring from the Clovis Police Department, his previous employment of about 18 years.
Lewis, a marine hobbyist since he was 8 years old, said he saw the need for an outlet for the hobby in Clovis. He said he would regularly buy his products out of town because local shops were too expensive.
“That’s what stimulated me to do it in the first,” said Lewis who said he has suppliers from Fiji, Australia and Vietnam.
Marine hobbyists assemble salt water sea life in tanks.
Knowing that buying a pet is a continuous investment, Lewis said he sells his products at a discounted price because customers are likely to return to his store.
“It’s a long-term thing,” he said.
Aside from his experience as a marine hobbyist, Lewis also took ichthyology —the study of fish — as a minor at a junior college in Illinois.
“I could give people a better deal on fish and provide them with information they couldn’t get at other shops,” said Lewis who worked at a pet store in Chicago when he was 14 years old.
Lewis said he started by selling tropical fish, rats, mice, hamsters and guinea pigs. But his inventory grew to include exotic sea life ranging from sea horses and corals to sharks.
He said the attraction to marine hobby is the calming quality an aquarium adds to a room.
“The colors of (salt-water) fish are more vibrant than regular tropical fish,” Lewis said. “It’s real soothing and comfortable to watch the fish and see different things happening (in the tank).”
He said developments in salt water fish tank systems have increased interest in the hobby. He said around 20 or 30 years ago, it would take between three to four months to set up a salt water system. Now, he said, it takes 10 days to two weeks.
Lewis also credits the 2003 animated movie “Finding Nemo” to the expansion of the marine hobby base.
“Everybody that saw ‘Nemo’ wanted to put a ‘Nemo’ tank together and they need people to guide them and not just sell them things,” he said.
Lewis said he decided to permanently close his store after a trip in September, when he visited his father, who had been ill. He said his father had wanted to travel all his life, but was unable to do much traveling because he had to take care of his wife, Lewis’ mother, and then his second wife. And now, it looks as if his father won’t be doing much traveling at all.
Lewis, who suffers from chronic pancreatitis and diabetes, didn’t want to meet the same fate.
“Slowly but surely we decided that we were going to retire,” he said.
Another factor in his decision was a stipulation from the Social Security Administration that he could not operate his store while drawing social security.
Lewis said his travel destinations include Chicago, South Carolina, North Carolina and Costa Rica.
“I will miss a lot of the good people, we built up relationships with a lot of our customers,” said Lewis, who also collects classic cars and does woodworking. “But I look forward to be able to get up and not go to work.”